20 Day Challenge Day 3 – The First Draft

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By David M. Williams, Ph.D.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

[Reposted September 4, 2020. This original post was from August 4, 2012. It was part of a 20-day PDSA challenge to learn what it takes to test a process and to build a habit of doing frequently.]

Anyone who has worked with me lately is familiar with an idea that I am promoting widely…getting to a first draft. After many years of graduate school and professional practice, I have had to write 1000s of pages of reports, articles, proposals, and a dissertation. If you’ve done a lot a writing (or even a little bit) you know it can be hard to get started or keep going. You start and stop and start and stop. You may tackle certain pieces in hopes that the rest will fill in later, but in the end, putting ideas down on paper can be hard.

I find the same thing goes when people are doing improvement work. It can be hard to craft an aim statement or to develop a driver diagram. Flushing out a charter or an A3 can feel daunting. And for many, you can spend more time trying to plan for the work or to spell out your theory of change than you actually do doing testing. In the end, you can spin your wheels and feel like you’re not making progress.

This is where the first draft idea comes in. In all my years of writing, I’ve learned first hand that it’s way easier to edit then it is to produce. So, how can we get past the struggle of production to a draft we can work with? Just put something down on paper. Don’t worry if it’s perfect. Don’t worry if it’s well organized or uses the perfect language. Just get something down on paper. Free write it even. The aim is to get the first draft of ideas out of your head. Now you have something to edit and work with.

Recently, I used this with a client developing a driver diagram for their CMS Innovation Grant. The first draft was a rough sketch drawn on paper focused on trying to make a proposal and convert it into the visual display of their change theory. Now that we could see something on paper and we had something to react to and we could build draft 2 in PowerPoint. More review and discussion and we quickly made version 3. Version 3 is looking much more refined than our first draft and I keep joking we have 3-5 more revisions to go, but at least we are making progress.

Having the freedom to just toss out an imperfect, unpolished, and rough first can be the next action that unlocks the creative juices. A first draft has the flexibility to be off, to be a work in progress, but it also gives you the gift of something to refine and edit. In my experience, once you have that first draft, now the discussion changes and becomes more focused. People begin to improve the organization, clarify the language, and get closer to working on a near-final draft. Progress!

Next time you are struggling to start something…a charter, a PDSA, a project plan. As soon as you feel like progress is stuck because you’re trying too hard to create a final draft, push for a first draft. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way.

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Day 3 – Today, was a long day of teaching followed by a great client dinner. By the time I hit my hotel room, I was beat. Again, it was very tempting to skip posting. Just 3 days into the challenge and I’ve experienced 2 days with a strong desire to slip, I pushed through. Once I started, the post flowed freely and was easier than I predicted when I started. Yesterday, I predicted posting takes longer than is sustainable with this frequency and aimed to time my posting today. I forgot to do it.  I think I spent 45 minutes. Tomorrow, I will try to track my posting time. One interesting learning that did occur is seeing daily traffic to this site doubled each day I have posted and shared those posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. On to day 4!